By David Fong
Regional Sports Content Manager
Most who were fortunate enough to see Harold “Corky” Valentine pitch were quick to give him a hand — but few were willing to do it literally.
John Bowers was.
“When I caught for him, I had to put a sponge in my glove,” Bowers said in a January 2005 interview with the Troy Daily News. Bowers was the catcher for Valentine, the strong-armed Troy High School pitcher who ruled the area in the late 1940s. “The only problem was, when I’d put the sponge in my glove, sometimes it would cause the ball to bounce out. So I had to take the sponge out. Every time I’d catch for him, my hand would be swollen.”
Valentine — who went on to pitch two seasons for the Cincinnati Reds after graduation from Troy High School in 1948 — passed away Jan. 21, 2005 in Canton, Ga. To this day, the late Valentine remains one of only two Troy High School graduates every to play Major League Baseball — the other being Heath Murray, a 1991 Troy graduate who pitched for the San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians from 1997-2002.
“I would end up catching for him all four years of high school,” Bowers said. “Of course, we won the league championship just about every year.”
Former Troy Fire Department Chief Robert Counts — who passed away Jan. 24, 2013 — also remembered just what kind of cannon Valentine had in a January 2005 interview with the Troy Daily News. Like Bowers, Counts played both football and baseball with Valentine.
“When John Bowers got hurt, I had to catch for him a few times,” Counts said. “He had a very strong arm. He could throw a football just about as far as anyone.”
In addition to starring for the Troy baseball team, Valentine also was the quarterback for the Troy football team. His senior year he led the Trojans to a 9-1 record.
“We were 9-0 until Piqua beat us,” Counts said. “I’m not sure how we won nine games that year. We only had about three lettermen returning from the team that undefeated the year before.”
Valentine’s senior year, he led the Troy baseball team deep into the tournament and eventually ended up playing Cincinnati Hughes at Crosley Field, former home of the Reds. Valentine got the start and pitched the Trojans to victory on a Friday afternoon. Because of an injury to the Troy pitching staff, Valentine had to come right back the next day and pitch against Western Hills, which was led by future Major League Baseball player and manager Don Zimmer.
“Our other pitcher, Lefty Flory, had a sore arm and couldn’t pitch against Western Hills,” Counts said. “Our coach took him over to the YMCA and got him all stretched out and he pitched that Saturday. He gave up five runs in the first two innings — but shut them out from there. Of course, we lost because they shut us out. But he pitched seven innings on Friday and seven innings on Saturday.
“A lot of people don’t remember this, but Corky could hit the ball, too. When we were playing down at Crosley, he hit a ball off the centerfield wall.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Valentine pitched at Crosley Field. He was drafted by the Reds and assigned to the club’s Class-D farm team in Muncie, Ind.
“I remember one time when he was pitching for the Muncie Reds, a bunch of us went up and had a ‘Corky Valentine Night.’ I don’t remember how many of us there were, but I do remember there were several busloads,” Counts said.
Valentine rose quickly through the minor leagues and made his big league debut with the Reds in 1954, alongside such Reds notables as Ted Kluszewski, Gus Bell, Wally Post and Joe Nuxhall.
His rookie season, Valentine went 12-11 with a 4.45 earned run average. He was tied with Nuxhall and Art Fowler for the team lead in wins; he was second on the team in games started (28), complete games (seven) and innings pitched (194.1). He was third on the team in strikeouts (73).
“He started out in Muncie, then worked his way up to Class C, then Class B and went right on from there,” Bowers said.
His rookie season, Valentine also became a part of history. On July 2 of that year, he served the 10th home run of fellow rookie Hank Aaron’s career. Aaron would go on to hit 745 on his way to becoming baseball’s home run king — a record that has since been broken by Barry Bonds.
The next season, Valentine appeared in 10 games for the Reds, going 2-1 with a 7.43 ERA. It would be Valentine’s last in the big leagues. An arm injury would cut short his season and, eventually, his baseball career. He was traded to the Milwaukee Braves in 1956. He spent spring training with the the Braves’ farm team in Atlanta, but the injury was too much to overcome. He never made it back to the big leagues — but did end up settling in Atlanta.
He would later become an Atlanta police officer, then a Fulton County police officer. In 1992 Valentine retired as a sergeant with the Fulton County Police Department.
“He was a very nice guy,” Counts said in the 2005 TDN interview. “He was very quiet and unassuming. You never heard anything from him about how strong his arm was. He was not a braggart. In fact, he was very shy and unassuming. He was a great guy. All of us on those football and baseball teams ended up becoming very close.”